The Trouble with Kent Hovind and Exodus International, or Why I Can’t Handle Liars-
Tl;dr- Creationism and Ex-gay programs suffer from the same desire to accommodate incorrect base assumptions, and they’ve both done significant harm to many (myself included).
The Trouble with Kent Hovind and Exodus International, or Why I Can’t Handle Liars-
When I was young, I LOVED science. I was fascinated by how things worked in the world, and Bill Nye and Ms. Frizzle guided me through some of my formative years…at least partially. You see, growing up Christian meant that anytime the dreaded e-word came up (evolution), I was told to remember that it was WRONG. That God could NOT have used evolution because we KNEW that a young-earth-creationist view was the ONLY acceptable view before the Lord Almighty.
I accepted this, of course. I was a very good rule follower. I loved rules. They helped the world make sense! Like science! Which also helps the world make sense! That’s why I was so pleased when a man by the name of Kent Hovind appeared. His talks started being circulated in the form of VHS tapes passed from private Christian school to private Christian school. He was a good Christian, but more importantly, he was a Scientist! He had degrees. He had PowerPoint presentations! He was SNARKY! Those dumb evolutionists knew NOTHING about the real world, because we Christians now had the REAL Science, and it was God’s Science!
I ate it up. Things my parents told me and things I enjoyed learning about were finally merging, and it had the added bonus of a smug sense of superiority! Teachers, pastors, parents, all agreed that this guy was a guy we wanted to listen to.
Of course, that all came crashing down. First, it was revealed that his claims to any scientific credentials were falsified. He had a master’s degree, sure…in music (oh, the irony). But ok, we thought, hobbyist or professional, as long as the Science stood up, it’d be ok…not that it could or would, even by the standards set by fellow Creationists. Add to that a heaping helping of tax evasion, assault and battery charges, and eventually a 10 year prison sentence (seriously, this guy’s Wikipedia page is a TRIP), and it was pretty clear that maybe (just maybe) we’d put our trust in the wrong guy.
As a teenager, I was furious. I was fed something as fact, and it turned out to be lies. I wanted to love studying the world alongside being “right” about religious matters. It made me much more critical of the things I consumed, not to mention far more concerned with things like peer review, assessment of bias, and actual, non-falsified credentials. I was angry, but I wouldn’t let this ruin my ability to trust people.
Fast-forward to my freshman year of (Christian) college. I had come out as gay to a few people, and the journey of self-acceptance was a slow one. A speaker from Exodus International was invited to come speak in chapel. He was confident. He looked very happy. He was quite attractive, to be honest. More than all this, he told me, and everyone in that chapel building, that someone could walk away from being gay. He had done it! He had a beautiful wife and happy children! What was the secret to his success? Exodus International. People went in gay and came out (ha) no longer gay. He had my undivided attention.
To be fair, he didn’t say it was a guarantee. He gave a statistic. One that stuck with me. He basically said there was a rule of thirds. 1/3 of the people who went into Exodus stayed gay and decided straightness wasn’t for them. Another 1/3 went into Exodus and didn’t get cured of the gay, but decided to remain celibate, an acceptable if not disappointing result. And 1/3 of the people who went into Exodus became fully-fledged straightlings. I liked those odds. I wasn’t a quitter. And I figured I’d be ok with celibacy if it came down to it. A two out of three chance at a life that God was ok with sounded good enough to try…later. When I wasn’t in school, perhaps. Straight could wait.
Once again, reality came crashing in. I was sent a video from a psychologist who had heard this similar claim and decided to find out where they were getting that division of thirds. She found that it was roughly accurate based on the self-identification of people who had been through Exodus International’s program…the entire program. This didn’t count the 84% of people who left before it was finished. And of the 1/3 that said they were straight…nearly every single one worked for Exodus afterward.
I was crushed. Lied to again. But this time, I was also thankful that I hadn’t wasted my time on something that had no real impact. I eventually grew to love myself (incrementally), and I found a little organization called GCN, the Gay Christian Network (now Q Christian Fellowship). It was a bit of a “flash in the pan” community for me, very helpful for when I needed them, and I have a few friends from those days (circa 2008–2010).
Moving forward to 2012. GCN was having it’s annual conference in Orlando, just about a two hour drive from where I lived at the time. (Don’t tell anyone- I sneaked in without registering, but since what goes around apparently comes around, I paid to go to the conference a later year and ended up not being able to attend.) This year was significant for a few reasons. There was a panel discussion which soon became infamous, mainly for its inclusion of Alan Chambers, then head of Exodus International. There was a decent amount of fuss over the decision. People felt blindsided by the inclusion of someone who seemed so antithetical to the mission statement of the organization.
But then…Alan said something. Something we did not expect to hear. It was another statistic, and it certainly wasn’t the division of thirds I had heard before. He said “The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them have not experienced a change in their orientation…”
We were stunned. Wasn’t this the organization whose slogan was “change is possible”? While at the time it felt like an unintended slip of a then very guarded secret among the ex-gays, what followed was not just a rebrand, but a complete disbanding of Exodus. It felt vindicating, to be sure, but also a bit…odd. Where does the hurt go at that point? What do I, someone who never attended Exodus but well-knew the impact it had, do with an apology like the one from Chambers?
Truth is, I never felt like it was my apology, except for one thing. I felt like someone was finally telling me the truth about something that really mattered. It was an admission that words had been deliberately twisted to cause harm, and that a large number of people were hoping to do what they could to rectify things.
Fast forward just one more year. 2013. I’ve been in a (mostly secret) relationship with a man for the first time. It’s long distance. We talk daily, and I feel like I know everything about him. We’ve been together for two and a half years, and I think we’ve maybe only missed one day of talking to each other that entire time. I definitely love him. He clearly loves me.
Until…he didn’t. Now, people can fall out of love. It’s a harsh reality the first time around, but one most of us learn to accept. But what I wasn’t prepared for what the unraveling of so many lies this person had told me. I wasn’t ready for the emotional and physical manipulation that I would later come to recognize as abuse tactics. I wasn’t ready to have my world come crashing down when he told me that we could never really be together, or when I found out months later that, among other significant things, he had been lying about his age (to the tune of a 15 year discrepancy).
I was devastated. Hadn’t I found someone that wouldn’t lie? In hindsight, there were thousands of warning signs. Young love tends to make one more willing to conveniently overlook or explain things in a way that keeps that love pure, intact, untouchable. But more than his lies to me, I had learned how to lie to myself. I fell into the same trap as Hovind and Exodus. Find an explanation, no matter how implausible, that fits the predetermined conclusion you feel you must come to, no matter the cost.
I can’t handle liars. Especially when one of those liars turned out to be myself. I don’t think one really ever learns the lesson of forgiveness until the one you have to forgive is the only person you have to live with every day of your life. I’m glad to say that I eventually learned how to start forgiving myself.
We’re now many years past the “downfall” of Hovind, 6 years past the admission and apologies from Chambers, and 4 years past the last contact I received from my ex. I don’t think the harm of these events in my life will ever be totally healed. I admittedly still react very strongly if I find out someone has been lying to me. Trust is difficult, especially in romantic relationships. But my ability to trust, my ability to value truth for what it is, and my hope that things can indeed get better…I’m happy to say that those are very real.